Julie Wilson Dies: Incomparable Voice Of Sondheim & Cole Porter Was 90
By Jeremy Gerard
April 6, 2015
Julie Wilson, a sultry, whiskey-voiced chanteuse who ruled the soigné cabaret rooms of Manhattan, from the top of the world at the St. Regis Hotel to the Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel, died Sunday night at her Midtown home. She was 90. No cause of death was given in the announcement by her longtime friend and protege Ann Hampton Callaway, but Wilson had been in poor health for some time.
Wilson, who arrived in New York a starry-eyed girl from Omaha, NE, and soon was trodding the boards of Broadway musicals, led a kind of double life as a saloon singer who patterned herself on her personal goddess Billie Holiday, right down to the ever-present gardenia behind her ear at every performance. Sleek, dark and sheathed in elegance betrayed only by a mischievous glint of the eye and just-between-us intimacy of style, Wilson taught generations of cabaret singers how it’s done. And thousands of worshipful fans why the great American songbook is a sacred if ever-evolving touchstone.
Her first Broadway show was Three To Make Ready in 1946, and in the mid-1950s she joined the casts of Kismet and The Pajama Game. Her final Main Stem show was playing a cabaret singer in Legs Diamond, for which she earned her lone Tony nom. Other Broadway credits include The Girl In The Freudian Slip, Jimmy and Park. She played the West End in such shows as South Pacific and Kiss Me, Kate and recorded numerous cabaret albums including Live From The Russian Tea Room and Julie Wilson At The St. Regis.
In her later years, battling crummy health, constant pain and the indifference of a dwindling industry, Wilson not only persevered with her own shows but was an inexhaustible champion of young singers, regularly appearing at clubs to show her support.
On her own, however, Wilson was to the bone an incomparable show woman and interpreter of the greats from Irving Berlin to Stephen Sondheim. When I first met her in the 1980s, she was a regular at the now-shuttered Oak Room. I persuaded her to come to Dallas, where I was working at the time, and a fast and enduring friendship was born. I was hardly alone as she took everyone who crossed her path under her wing. With her enthusiasm for life, for the unmatched beauty of a witty lyric matched with a haunting melody, for the latest gossip.
WILSON, Julie (Julie May Wilson)
Born: 10/21/1924, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.A.
Died: 3/5/2015, New York City, New York, U.S.A.
Julie Wilson’s western – actress:
The Rough Riders (TV) – 1997 (Mrs. Fish)